In literature, realism is an approach that attempts to describe life without idealization or romantic subjectivity.  It is most often associated with the movement in France and the writers Honore de Balzac and Gustave Flaubert.  George Eliot introduced realism into England and William Dean Howells in to the US .

  A reaction against, and a natural development of, Romanticism, Realism was a transcontinental movement that shifted the focus of literature away from the exotic and adventurous toward the everyday lives of the common people. "Common" here means primarily the middle and lower upper classes. Clerks, civil servants, their families, and their love lives become a common topic of literary works.

It is chiefly concerned with the commonplaces of everyday life among the middle and lower classes, where character is a product of social factors and environment is the integral element in the dramatic complications.

 Realists believed that humanity’s freedom of choice was limited by the power of outside forces. 

 The industrial revolution called for standardization, mass production of goods and streamlined channels of distribution.  People feared that local folkways and traditions would be forgotten.  Responding to these sentiments, Realistic writers set their stories in specific regions, rushing to capture the local color before it was lost.  They drew upon the grim realities of everyday life, showing the breakdown of traditional values and the growing plight of the urban poor.   


Plot and Character

    Character is more important than action and plot; complex ethical choices are often  the subject.

    Characters appear in the real complexity of temperament and motive; they are in explicable relation to nature, to each other, to their social class, to their own past.  

    Humans control their destinies; characters act on the environment rather than simply reacting to it.  

    Renders reality closely and in comprehensive detail.  Selective presentation of reality with an emphasis on verisimilitude, even at the expense of a well-made plot.

    Events will usually be plausible.  Realistic novels avoid the sensational, dramatic elements of novels.

    Class is important; the novel has traditionally served the interests and aspirations of an insurgent middle class.

Interpretation and Analysis

     Realism is viewed as a realization of democracy.

    The morality of Realism is intrinsic; integral, relativistic – relations between people and society are explored.

    Realists were pragmatic, relativistic, democratic and experimental.  The purpose of writing is to instruct and entertain.   

Structure of Prose

    Diction is the natural vernacular, not heightened or poetic; tone may be comic, satiric, or matter-of-fact.

    The use of symbolism is controlled and limited; the realists depend more on the use of images.  

    Objectivity in presentation becomes increasingly important; overt authorial comments or intrusions diminish as the century progresses


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Realistic Lit